From Groundwood Books: Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies—Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.
Hélène doesn’t like going to school anymore. She doesn’t like herself much anymore, either. She is fat (the other girls tell her so), her clothes are never quite right and she is lonely. She finds comfort in a book called Jane Eyre and escapes into Jane’s world whenever she can.
Jane, the Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault (Groundwood Books) is a middle-grade graphic novel originally written in French. It is a short but mighty book about the damage of bullying and the positive power of finding a connection, whether it be with a character in a book, an animal or a new friend.
This is a very subtle book, not to be rushed. At first I was confused that the illustrations didn’t seem to match the text, as Hélène is supposed to be an overweight character but she is drawn the same size as the girls who are making fun of her. But of course Britt and Arsenault know exactly what they’re doing. Through Hélène’s thoughts and Arsenault’s illustrations we come to see that the taunts Hélène receives from her once friends have convinced her that she is fat. It achingly demonstrates how bullying can destroy a child’s self-esteem.
If you have read Virgina Wolf, you will already be familiar with Arsenault’s use of colour alongside black-and-white in her illustrations to convey emotion. Well, you can expect a similar style here, with hope shining brightly through all the grey. Her illustrations are insightful and brilliantly tell Hélène’s story.
Honest, heartbreaking, but eventually hopeful, this is a book to be absorbed slowly and appreciated for a long, long, time.
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ (4/5 hearts)